I was talking with a colleague recently who described an interaction with one of her students who had been rejected from a journal. The response of her supervisors sounded really interesting, so I asked if she’d mind forwarding the emails onto me for a blog post. Which she kindly did! There’s a lot here that is useful in thinking about how to respond when you get rejected. I should point out this is in a country where many students complete a PhD through publications, and in this case the article was written by the student, with all the supervisors helping her and named as authors.
First the student wrote to her supervisors
At last I have got response from the journal regarding my second manuscript. Unfortunately they are not interested to publish it.
I´m very disappointed about that. I can agree with a lot of the comments, it is useful for me in the future process but it has taken over 6 months to deliver that answer and right now I don´t have so much positive energy to restart the work.
I think I can interpret their comments (at least from the first reviewer) as if I rewrite the manuscript I can try to resubmit it but I´m not really sure if that is their suggestion.
Then one supervisor replied, cc’ing the others
Thank you for your email. Yes that is somewhat disappointing, but from the comments, perhaps it is good that it isn¹t published in its current form: because from what the reviewers saw, I don¹t think the paper did full justice to your work and your thinking! Better to have a stronger paper published, even if it is later.
I have had similarly prickly experiences, particularly in this journal, with reviewers who really want accounts of research to feel as if the research was quantitative (a bit like reviewer 1 worrying about interpretation in ethnographic research etc).
On the plus side:
- Both reviewers appear to have read your paper in quite a bit of detail! (which is not always the case)
- Both reviewers have offered well-written comments that are quite easy to understand (which is not always the case)
- There is lots in the comments that will help to improve the paper.
I think both the reviewers offer largely helpful comments – they are not fighting the kind of story you want to tell, or questioning its importance. They do want to know more concrete detail about the study methods, want a clearer alignment between the question, theory, findings and discussion, and a very clear argument as to what is new and why it matters. They are all very achievable without having to go back and do more analysis!
I think the process now should be to wait a few days until you feel a bit less fed up, and then to start:
- Thinking of alternative journals (although R1 seemed to invite this the journal is definitely not asking for a resubmission as I interpret the email). XXX might be one possibility. Or YYY?
- Coming up with your own to-do list in terms of changes you think are worth making to the paper – and perhaps differentiating those that are small/easy, and those that require a bit more thought and work. You can also list those points the reviewers made that you¹re not so bothered about and don¹t want to make big changes.
So, when you¹re feeling you have the energy to take it up again, there are my suggestions 🙂
Then another supervisor added her voice
I understand that it feels a bit disappointing, particularly since they kept you waiting so long for the decision. But I can only echo what [Supervisor 1] is suggesting, once you have worked through the comments, your paper will be much stronger. I think you should let it sit while you are completing the paper on the [different analysis], you are in a good flow with that one at the moment! And we should think of an alternative journal, I agree, we need to aim for one that is included in Web if Science.
And then a third supervisor added his voice
This is the kind of experience that is not only sometimes happening, but rather a rule than an exception. And just as S1 and S2 state; it will in the end improve the paper. But I do agree they could have given us this feedback at least half a year earlier….
I also think S2’s advice is right; go on with the paper on [different analysis] and let this paper rest (just like a wine; it will become better with time and maturation – ask your husband!).
So let this experience take its time and aim for a journal that is indexed in Web if Science, although the IF is not too important.
Then the student replies
Thanks for the support!
I totally agree with you all and as I said, the comments from the reviewers are very good for me in the future process and also for my paper regarding the [different analysis]. I struggle with the same issues here I guess; clear arguments for the study, evidence for my findings and how to discuss that much more clear.
Brief comment from me
What I like here is:
- That we end up with the student being able to take the rejection letter as a way to identify some things that she needs to look out for in another paper
- That S3 normalises this kind of experience
- That S2 provides very concrete suggestions in terms of not getting distracted by the rejection when work is going well on another paper
- That S1 finds positive things to appreciate in the reviewers’ comments, even though it was a rejection
- That the student felt comfortable sharing this, and got such strong and immediate support.